Software Continuous Integration: What it is and how to apply it correctly
Software continuous integration is a DevOps practice in which implementers periodically merge changes into a central hub and run them. The main goal of this process is to determine bugs as quickly as possible to improve software quality. For a long time, developers have shared their findings exclusively in a ready-made form, adding difficulties to the updates management and release. And this approach didn’t promise anything good because, as the practice has shown, with this form of work a huge amount of time was spent, and the software quality, in the end, did not improve. And if only it simply didn’t improve, in the process of updates there were more and more bugs, which prevented the release of new quality updates.
How does CI work?
Continuous integration is the starting point of CI/CD pipeline that ensures faster delivery of high-quality products. With continuous integration, developers post and confirm their work in a shared repository. Before each record validation, they have a possibility to run local tests as an additional check before integrating the software.
The software continuous integration has an automated system monitor the repository for new code changes. Whenever a change is detected, the system will run a series of automated tests to verify that the code is correct and functions as intended. If any errors are detected, the system will alert the developers.
The software continuous integration is usually used in the final stages of software production – testing – before direct implementation.
To avoid problems with code integration, developers try to instill their partially completed work into the central repository several times a day. By doing this, they are making sure that the code will work properly. The only real way to be confident is to test every feature. This process is a key element of continuous integration. However, manual check-up takes too much time, so the most important condition is to have working automated algorithms. They relieve developers of their heavy burdens and save plenty of time.
CI is a powerful and beneficial tool for software development teams. By catching errors early on, developers can avoid costly and time-consuming rework. This in turn can lead to faster delivery times, improved customer satisfaction, and increased revenue. In addition, software CI helps ensure that code is always up-to-date, which can reduce the risk of security issues and other bugs.
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What strategies are used in continuous integration?
Of course, every company strives to develop and use its strategy differently from the competition. However, still, you can highlight common CI methods. Here are the most practiced of them:
- Blue/Green deployment: user traffic from the previous version of the utility is used, but it is gradually migrated to the nearly identical new version. In this case, only one version of the application – as an example, an earlier one, can be active at a time. The testing is performed on a more modern and advanced version. When testing is complete, the old utility is temporarily deactivated but backed up so that it is possible to roll back if something goes wrong.
- Canary: similar to the previous method but more gradual. First, the update is tested on a small group of users. If all is well, the update is offered to a wider range of people – and so on until most recipients agree that the utility version is stable and working.
- Rolling is a method of step-by-step but continuous updating. If something goes wrong and the code breaks, you can quickly stop the process and, if necessary, roll back to a previous, more stable version.
- Recreate: the process of redoing the update from scratch. It transfers all the features of the old versions to the new ones.
- A/B: With this deployment approach, the application’s new version is distributed by a secret principle. Testers will not even know that they are testing a new version, as it will be served under the sauce of the old one.
It’s just your choice of which approach and technique to use, but the above are well-proven in today’s realities – they are pretty flattering.
What utilities are available to implement continuous integration?
There are many continuous integration software available. Here are the most popular ones:
- Jenkins, an open-source tool that automates integration, testing, and deployment processes. The advantage of Jenkins over other services is a huge number of plugins: there are plenty of them, and they all greatly simplify the work with software, increasing its flexibility to the limit. All of these plugins were developed by concerned community members with pure enthusiasm, so developers treat their brainchild with reverence – bugs are constantly being fixed and optimization is being improved.
- TeamCity is a convenient continuous integration service made by JetBrains. With TeamCity, it is easy to create Docker images, and Jira and Bugzilla support – just to keep track of problems. TeamCity also changes the whole build, which makes it more comfortable to track the statistics and creates a kind of safety cushion, because if something goes wrong you can roll back to the previous version.
- Bamboo CI is a development by Atlassian. Distributed under a special license. The tool integrates with other services like Jira, Confluence and Clover. Bamboo CI can do parallel testing with fast feedback. Overall, it is an easy-to-learn tool with a user-friendly interface.
- GitLab CI is a utility with a wide range of tools for working with code, owned by GitLab Inc. Most of the features are available on a free basis, but the rest require a license purchase. Bamboo CI is directly integrated with GitLab and displays all the information about the progress of the code in a single dashboard, which is especially useful for large companies, where each development department acts separately and independently.
- CircleCI is a convenient service developed by the company with the same name. It is considered one of the best on the market and is great in the meaning of automating builds, testing, and deployment. The service integrates with Bitbucket, GitHub, and GitHub Enterprise. With CircleCI, you can easily and quickly troubleshoot bugs and run tests quickly. CitcleCI also tracks the entire history of a build, bringing to the user’s attention potential bugs that need to be fixed in a particular version. CircleCI integrates easily into the vast majority of cloud services.
The choice of utility is entirely up to the development team. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages, which must be taken into account depending on the type and complexity of the project.
To sum up
But there are some niches where CI is far from the most practical and convenient approach. Continuous integration, for example, isn’t very good for utilities that are rarely updated (e.g., a few times a year). It can also be difficult to implement continuous integration if the application has an outdated architecture.
The effect of CI can be mapped into KPIs. Among the metrics to consider are: deployment frequency, change lead time, and mean time to recovery. If they’re improving, you’re doing it right.
To get started, the team needs to decide on their priorities. Firstly, it’s required to develop a consensus on the right approaches, so that once CI is in place, the manufacturers will consistently adhere to the practices they’ve previously chosen.
Software development continuous integration is an indispensable thing for modern and high-performing organizations. The most successful companies have robust CI and are always willing to invest in improving efficiency. The benefits of CI are available not only to the engineering team but to all other parts of the company. The tighter the interaction between them, the more successful and faster development will be. If you are the head of the company, try to explain to your subordinates how to communicate in this process to eliminate misunderstandings. Use the tips from our article, and you are sure to find the right approach for your employees.
And remember the most important thing: Automation and running tests only makes sense if you intend to use the information you get in some way. CI tools offer a range of mechanisms for processing results, from monitoring panels to integration with instant messaging platforms.
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